In my last post, I wrote about my tale of picking up and subsequently dumping the coffee habit. A reasonable follow-up question would be what I substitute for caffeine to optimize my energy throughout the day.
Here are a few of my natural caffeine alternatives:
1) Take a cold shower – This is something I started to do regularly last year when I was feeling exceedingly sore after jiu jitsu training sessions. Yes, stepping into a stream of ice cold water will feel like hell for the first minute but your body will adjust quicker than you’d think. When I started taking these cold showers, I noticed not only reduced soreness but also greater alertness and mental sharpness that would last several hours. When I dug into why I felt so good, I discovered that the deep breathing and increased heart rate that came from the shock of cold water also boosted oxygen and blood circulation, respectively. Oxygen and blood are two of the key ingredients that get your brain going!
For reference, although the experts say 8-10 minutes in cold water is optimal for complete recovery, I’ve found even 2-3 minutes will make a difference. Side benefits: cold showers have also been shown to boost testosterone (what guy doesn’t want to maximize his T levels?) and fat metabolism (which 99% of the Western world is after)1.
2) Get a standup desk – We have all heard that sitting is the new smoking. Long-term, sitting for extended periods leads to a bad back, heart problems and all types of musculoskeletal issues. Short-term, sitting can lead to a foggy brain as sitting for hours has been shown to lead to a slowdown in brain function2. At the New York headquarters of MediaMath where I work, all employees have standup desks. So when it is 3 PM and I hit a mental rut, working on my feet for 20 minutes will usually get me back to working a productive level. If you don’t have a standup desk, considering taking a short walk, especially outside in the cold, to get blood, oxygen and the right neurotransmitters flowing into your brain again.
3) Take a nap – Yes, I do realize that most of the working world is not able to do this after lunch on weekdays and, no, I do not advocate passing out on a toilet (unless you are a sleep-deprived IBanker). However, if you are considering a scoop of Jack3d or a cup of coffee at 5 PM before your evening workout, I strongly suggest taking a 20 minute nap as soon as you get home from work. Why 20 minutes and not an hour or two? Although hitting REM cycles in your core nightly sleep are essential for making new connections in the brain (and thus facilitating learning), waking up in the middle of a REM cycle will leave you back at square one, feeling groggy. Even if you don’t hit a REM cycle, sleeping over 30 minutes may still leave you out of it when you wake up3. The 20 minute power nap is ideal for alertness and motor skills and will thus better prepare you for getting out of your mental and/or physical funk and tackling whatever is ahead of you. One of napping’s several advantages over coffee is that it is more likely to keep your memory intact as caffeine has been shown to decrease memory performance.
4) Eat a lot of veggies – I eat salads almost every day during the workweek, not only because it helps keep unneeded pounds off, but also because I feel an energy boost after binging on veggies. I don’t intend to be Captain Obvious here but the key is to eat the right veggies (i.e. iceberg lettuce probably won’t do much for you). Kale and beets are two examples of vegetables that will make a difference for optimizing your performance. Talking about kale, all around Renaissance man Joe Rogan eloquently stated, “You’ll feel fantastic, have a big boost of energy and later on your poop will fly out of your body as if it was late to catch a plane.”
Beets by Dre…sorry
Beets, especially the roots, are well-known natural performance enhancers used by athletes to promote greater blood flow, thus fueling the body and brain. Also, make sure to eat your veggies with fats! Fats are not only essential for brain function but also vital for allowing the nutrients from veggies to absorb into your body. I use either coconut oil (high in medium chain triglycerides or MCTs, which have been linked to elevated fat burning) or avocados (which are packed with nutrients).
Now that you are fueled by this new knowledge, tomorrow, I implore you to duck that morning cup of coffee or caffeinated drink of choice and try at least one of these four techniques. If you want to report on your results or learn more, email me.
Much thanks to Krutika Gupta, Ankur Sisodia, Dan “The Man” Suzuki and Marcos Rivas for aiding me in publishing this piece!